Why Oracle Skinned Sleepycat

The database giant's fascination with open source continues.

Oracles purchase of the open-source embedded database company Sleepycat Software Feb. 14-the first in what is expected to be a series of similar acquisitions-gives the software giant a foothold into the embedded database market and extends its reach further into the open-source community.

The acquisition of Sleepycat, the company behind Berkeley DB, for an undisclosed sum is considered to be the first of a trio of open-source database purchases. Oracle also is in the market to buy JBoss and Zend, raising the question: What is Oracle up to?

"There [are] two driving reasons: The first is they're the market leader in their category, embedded database software," said Robert Shimp, vice president of technology marketing at Oracle, of Redwood Shores, Calif. "They're extremely popular on edge-based devices like network switches. They''re very popular in all kinds of embedded storage systems, application security systems [and so on]."

Oracle has been in the embedded database market for some time, said Shimp, with its Oracle Database Lite database for mobile devices and TimesTen In-Memory Database for high-performance, in-memory database applications. While those two products serve low- and high-end needs, respectively, Berkeley DB will fill an important gap in the middle, Shimp said.

Customer reaction to the deal was generally positive. Gary Lang, vice president of engineering for Autodesk's Infrastructure Solutions Division, of San Rafael, Calif., uses Sleepycat's Berkeley DB and is also an Oracle customer. "This just consolidates two relationships into one," said Lang, who added that Oracle is gobbling up open-source players for a good reason. "Open source is here to stay, and its a good model for commodity-level server software," said Lang.

"One critical requirement of customers in this market is the ability to customize their database product," Shimp said. "Every device you embed has unusual constraints or needs. So open-source databases are a perfect fit. That's why Berkeley DB has been so wildly successful there."

The Sleepycat acquisition has closed, and Shimp said the company plans to keep the status quo for customers in terms of licensing, branding and business models. However, equally important to Oracle is the further penetration into the open-source community to allow Oracle to learn and ultimately profit from it, said Shimp.

The lucrative part of the open-source market is support and subscription services, areas in which Oracle has a vast footprint, with the worlds largest enterprise support organization.

Do Berkeley DB users want Oracle to turn their projects into massive global opportunities? Furthermore, do they trust Oracle to refrain from tinkering with Sleepycat's dual license, which offers an open-source and commercial version?

Rex Wang, vice president of marketing for Sleepycat, of Lincoln, Mass., says the company's entire staff and development team will be retained. "Customers will continue to receive support for [the database]," said Wang.

George Schlossnagle, vice president and principal consultant for OmniTI Computer Consulting, in Columbia, Md., deploys Berkeley DB for some customers. "Most of our customers use these technologies for commercial purposes," he said. "So they weren't covered under the open-source alternative for most Sleepycat products, at which point you're looking at commercial licenses anyway."

"So there's little fear there" that Oracle will upset the apple cart, said Schlossnagle.